In 1800, Swindon in Wiltshire was a small market town with a population of 2,500. Fifty years later, it was booming and expanding rapidly with the arrival of the railway and the Great Western Railway (GWR) locomotive repair works, along with a railway village for the workers (which the Council tried to demolish in the 1960′s and was saved by John Betjeman), a school and a pub with, later, a library and a health service for the workers – said to be the inspiration for the NHS.
The Works were closed in 1986 and, no doubt, if they had not been listed, they would have been demolished for some characterless modern development. The western half of the site was redeveloped and opened as a Designer Outlet Centre in 1997; I can only remember vaguely visiting. Since then, however, it has been extended, first in 2002 into the former workshop and then in 2009 by Pod Architects who both refreshed the whole complex and extended it into the Long Shop building, while providing a large circular domed event space.
Both English Heritage and the National Trust now have their Headquarters there, there is a railway museum, and most the old works house the Designer Outlet Village, keeping much of the character and history of the buildings while providing outlet space for brands like Ralph Lauren, Gap, M&S and Whittards of Chelsea, along with essential eateries and a covered children’s play area. One of the key aims is that this should be part of the regeneration of Swindon itself.
Judging by how busy the car park was, and the number of carrier bags people were carrying, Swindon Designer Outlet is very popular. Why would you ever go to a town centre shopping mall again? Here you have car parking, protection against the weather, a children’s play area, historic architecture and links to the great days of steam locomotives, contemporary design, plus permanent discounts.